Major row sinks third day of voting on Bulgaria’s controversial new election code

The Movement for Rights and Freedoms, the party led and supported in the main by Bulgarians of Turkish ethnicity and which holds sway in the current ruling axis, is infuriated at Parliament having turned down its proposal to allow election campaigning in languages other than Bulgarian, with translation provided.

The third day of voting on the Bulgarian Socialist Party-driven draft new election code, which already has seen a string of controversies, was cut short for lack of a quorum after parties tangled over the MRF language proposal.

The fate of the election code faces further obstacles as even the driver of the controversial draft, socialist MP Maya Manolova, expects that the President will veto it, while centre-right opposition party GERB intends hauling the lengthy and much-redrafted code into the Constitutional Court.

But more immediately, emotions ran high in the 42nd National Assembly on February 14 as the provisions on the rules of use of language in election campaigning came up for the vote.

This was after MPs adjourned on the night of February 13, after 11 hours of argument and voting, to consider their responses to the MRF proposal, which was tabled as an amendment during the second-reading voting session.

After the proposal to allow languages other than Bulgarian in campaigning was voted down, MRF leader Lyutvi Mestan described the decision as “discriminatory”, inappropriate for an EU country and likely to lead to a penalty from the EU and as impractical. Mestan asked what would happen, given that its proposal to allow translation to be used at campaign events was rejected, if Graham Watson – leader of the EU-wide Alliance for Liberals and Democrats – was to address an election event in Bulgaria.

In the course of proceedings, MRF MP Hussen Hafazov delivered a fiery speech, prompting the parliamentary group of the ultra-nationalist Ataka party to walk out of the House.

GERB leader Boiko Borissov, speaking to reporters, sought to make much of the differences on the issue between the MRF and the BSP, saying, “the only solution is early elections”.

The record shows that the BSP seemed divided among itself on the issue. Of the BSP MPs who voted on the MRF proposal, three voted in favour, 11 against and 60 abstained.

The current schedule of the National Assembly provides on the next sitting to be February 19, although socialist Speaker of Parliament Mihail Mikov did not rule out the possibility of special sittings before then. In remarks to journalists after the sitting collapsed for lack of a quorum, Mikov blamed the media for negative reporting on the election code.

Meanwhile, in the course of voting on February 14 and previous days, a number of noteworthy provisions in the lengthy text have been approved.

The state will pay 40 000 leva for media packages to parties and coalitions which have candidates standing in elections but which are not entitled to a state subsidy under the Political Parties Act, meaning those not already represented in a legislature.

On February 13, the National Assembly approved provisions that will make the Central Election Commission a permanent body whose leadership will be elected by Parliament on the basis of proposals made by the parties represented in that parliament. The head, deputy head and secretary of the commission may not come from candidates nominated by the same parliamentary group.

Earlier, Parliament voted to bar Bulgarians resident in a non-EU country from voting in European Parliament elections and voted that Bulgarians not resident in Bulgaria six months prior to municipal and mayoral elections may not vote in those elections – the latter a provision that also irked the MRF, which historically relies on the votes of Bulgarian passport-holders resident in Turkey.



The Sofia Globe staff

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